Friday, July 15, 2016

This is not a test

Hola peeps.

It is 936pm on Thursday, July 14th and I am typing this from the comforts of David’s couch in Kampala. You finding it difficult to keep track of my movements, huh? Yup, that’s ‘cos after landing in Kigali last Thursday with grand plans to do touristy stuff from the next day until my return to Juba on Sunday, fighting kicked off in my new nation’s capital. No need to provide links to news reports as I am sure you’ve already heard of the loss of lives and displacement of thousands.

Woke up Friday morning to news of skirmishes the night before, and mind went back to incident described in last blog entry, and also last week Wednesday night when I was stopped by “security” on way from buying pizza. Though I took the ‘normal’ route this time, I was not surprised to be stopped, as things get a little heavy towards Independence Day (July 9th). First, dude accused me of speeding, and only backed off after I gave him my patented Come on, I’m Nigerian. You really think that lame excuse to extort money is gonna work on me look that worked so well in Monrovia back in the day, and recently at the Nairobi airport. Then, after glancing at driver’s license, the car’s log-book, aka “particulars” to you Nigerians, was requested. Dunno why it is referred to as “book” seeing as it’s just a tiny, single-leafed laminated document with the car details. I recall having a copy made and kept in the glove compartment, so I confidently flipped open the compartment hoping to be home with loadsa time to have pizza, pack for Kigali trip, then watch Wales take on Portugal in the Euros.

Did not quite happen to plan as could not locate log-book. Efforts to reach my driver proved abortive as both his phones were off; guess he was enjoying his public holiday a tad much. Further efforts to explain this to the security personnel fell on deaf ears. Dude seized car keys and I had to call a South Sudanese colleague to rescue the situation. While thinking, I really need to learn Juba Arabic so these incidents stop recurring, colleague informed me he parted with $100 in order to get the car released. U what?! One hundred US dollars?! I was miffed, and told him I would have left the car in their custody and asked the driver to return the next day with the document requested. Dude laughed and said if we had let them hold on to car for the night, chances are one might not see car again. Or if our luck was in, only certain parts of would be taken out. Turns out dude was not exaggerating. Just like traffic control officers who unscrew car license plates, say if one parks incorrectly, to compel driver to seek them out and  discover what one’s crime (and “fine”) is, not guaranteeing security of car, even though it is in the custody of the “authorities”, is one of those uniquely Juba-esque phenomena.  “What are you gonna do”, mate asked when I appeared shocked at this news. “Did you see any name tags on any of them? If they choose to take your car to their base, best go with them and sleep in car if necessary, else that is last time you gonna see car”.

Woah, I have been in Juba for 15 months and still get surprised by stuff. I recall first time I heard about girls fighting in clubs over mundane stuff, now it’s normal to see the girl that previously looked like a saint threatening to stab her ex-boyfriend for hanging with her friend. I no longer flinch at tales like guy causally discussing shooting his girlfriend’s cuz whose only crime was not allowing girlfriend go off with him ‘cos said girlfriend had told her parents she was spending night at cuz’s crib, and cuz didn’t wanna be held accountable should stuff go awry. Yup, Juba still seems to hold a lot of surprises in store for moi (and that’s not even accounting for recent discovery that the Tinder app in Juba only has seven (7) people signed up). Case in point is the recent outbreak of violence between rival factions of what should be a unity government.

Last week, when I told my female colleague I was off to Kigali, she jokingly asked if I would return to Juba “cos Rwanda women are uber hot”. Well, didn’t get to really see anyone ‘cos as intimated earlier I was distraught at news of the clashes. Good thing on the day of arrival I made appointment for a 90 minute sports massage for the next day. After spending most of Friday following up on events in Juba I chose to decompress with said massage, and, ahem, a mani+pedi. On Saturday, went with mates to the Kigali Genocide Museum which was beyond sobering. Was on verge of tears a number of times, and the events in Juba further added a sense of poignancy to the day. The next day, as flights to Juba were cancelled, I had to re-route return ticket to Entebbe. Hence, why I am currently camped out on David’s couch.

A ceasefire was announced the evening of on Monday July 11th, and one sincerely hopes this is for real, and not just a simulacrum of peace before another recrudescence in fighting. Even though the ceasefire has been pretty much adhered to, a number of nations have continued evacuating their citizens as precaution. My colleague was flown out of Juba yesterday on a charter flight that cost $1,200 for a one-way ticket to Entebbe. Yup, that crazy. Poor lady was indoors throughout 4 days of fighting and, as expected, remains traumatized by any sudden outburst of noise. Although bosses in Nigeria insisted I return to Lagos until events in Juba assume normalcy, I fought against it and assured them I would rather be here, nearby, monitoring events, and shall only return to Juba when I get reassurance from peeps at the coalface.

On second thought, maybe I should have taken their advice as it feels weird to wear the same clothes twice in a week. Plus, I can’t work out ‘cos don’t have any gym clothes, rechargeable electric toothbrush is running outta juice, and most dire of all, I am running outta jokes. Usually my trips to Kampala last for a max of 3 days, where I regale Dave with funny anecdotes about Juba. Now, before I say stuff, Dave politely blurts out, “oh, you’ve told me that already.” Darn! Contents of my usual travel toilet bag are also running low: miniature cologne, miniature deodorant, and miniature lip balm. Now here’s where you are probably thinking, how much lip balm does a brother need? Hey, it ain’t like I have huge ass Mick Jagger lips where a large tub of Vaseline is a monthly requirement for keeping lips moist; it’s just that, you know what, who cares what you think?

David’s been having a ball having me around as he now has an excuse to throw out every non-PC joke he’s ever thought of. When a mutual friend called his phone to commiserate with me on situation in Juba, he goes, “Welcome to Dave’s substitute UN camp. For refugees from Syria, press 1. To speak to refugees from Nigeria, press 2…” And there I was thinking his take on Prince’s cremated body filling only a shot glass was a nadir.

Yup, I remain the world’s only refugee offered a choice of fresh meals, cable TV, a standby help to carry out laundry and make bed, and access to 3G Wi-Fi access. Let it be on record that I put in a complaint to my local UNHCR (aka David) about his camp not having 4G Wi-Fi connectivity. I am not comfortable reprinting the words he used as this is a family website.
Not all bad though, as Wi-Fi access has enabled me keep up with work and arrange a few meetings for Kampala. I met some dude who told me Kampala’s now the fastest growing market for Uber. Man, I hate those guys for stealing my Rent-A-Driver idea from a decade ago. Sure, I didn’t pursue my idea further, but it’s never too late to piggyback on their concept. With the spate of extramarital affairs in Kampala Dave keeps telling me about it might be time to found an Uber for monitoring one’s spouse’s movements. A mix of Uber and the Cheaters TV show if you wish. Need your suggestions for a snazzy brand name as so far all I have come up with are Uber Xxx and Voyeur.

Everyone that meets me here keeps asking for reasons for the recent clashes like I am supposed to know intricate details ‘cos I live in Juba. However, while explaining depth of what I knew to David and his pals, I started to make sense even to myself, and realized this is how one gets designated an “expert” on certain issues. All that is left for me to appear on a few global news networks, and before you know it, I’ll become a sought after talking head. Yup, it’s that simple.

A few others still don’t get why I moved to South Sudan in the first place, and are even more incredulous when I tell them I intend to return as soon as regular commercial flights resume. They mean well though, and keep offering unsolicited advice. Some lady told me to always have a month’s supply of food at home and an emergency pack that has essential items such as “strong deodorant that is guaranteed to prevent sweat for at least a week”. A week?! That reminded me of a comedy show at GeorgiaTech when a lady said she bought a drug that was guaranteed to prevent pregnancies for life. “I took those two tablets and within 24 hours all hair on right side of body fell off. I am talking on head, armpit, eyebrows, eyelashes, everywhere! Plus my breath stunk like a skunk. Then I realized the manufacturers were right: looking and smelling like this, ain’t no way I was gonna get pregnant ’cos ain’t nobody gonna wanna touch me!

On a serious tip, my host has been a good sport, and did his best to cheer me up when I arrived on Sunday dejected. After a meal with ice-cream, we went to catch the Euro 2016 finals, and he suggested we drop by a club. I was about to complain about it being a Sunday night and how club would probably be empty as most folk would be prepping for work the next day….then I remembered I was in Kampala, the nightlife capital of East Africa, and kept mouth shut. Sure enough, we got into the club at 1am, and there was a sizeable number in there. Mind was still on happenings in Juba, so sat at same spot and hardly moved until we left after 2 hours.

Funniest event of the night was when Sinach’s gospel hit I Know Who I Am came on. A number of couples who had hitherto been grinding against each other slowly created some space between them. Then, after the song ended they went back to the way they were. Yup, that song has become this generation’s Stomp and Shackles(Praise You) all rolled into one. That sight took me back to uni days when you having dirty thoughts in head with chick you dancing with and then Shackles comes on. All of a sudden the message of your last Bible study pops in your head, and you start confessing sins you have committed and ones you are about to commit. Come to think of it, my guiltiest feeling was probably dancing to Stomp in a Leeds club called Heaven & Hell. I am sure I musta told you this before, the club had separate rooms, Heaven, with paintings of angels on the wall, and Hell with you know what. I ended up not asking for any girl’s number at end of the night due to immense guilt. Ha. Man, did I think I was fooling God?

The minor inconvenience (of being away from station) obviously has nada on what others went through in South Sudan, and I apologize for joking about it earlier. You musta noticed by now it’s my way of dealing with stuff. Immediately I heard news of the fighting my mind went to the verse in 1 Timothy 2 about praying for those in authority so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. We take a lot of things for granted when things are hunky-dory, but this episode has taught me to watch what I say, and even though I may not fancy a leader’s policies or the cut of their jib, I am bound to pray for them. Now, this doesn’t mean they get a free pass, but in my criticisms I must also remember they are human and God ultimately has control of their lives (Proverbs 21 v 1).

Speaking of prayer, since I am not alone at David’s I tend to pray sotto voce so I do not disturb anyone. Come to think of it, even when I was alone for almost a month in 5-bedroom crib in Lagos – and chose to use a different toilet a day just so I could “fully utilize” rent – I still never prayed aloud. I have always prayed quietly and tend to do other stuff, like shining shoes, while praying so mind does not wander off. A friend once told me of a neighbor who prayed so loud it bugged him so. Once while studying, all was tranquil until a paroxysmal “OH, SO SATAN, YOU ARE STILL HERE? GET OUT!” was heard from his neighbor’s apartment. Instinctively, he ran out of the room and it was only when he got to the door leading out of his apartment he came to and cracked up upon realizing what had just occurred.

Another close friend’s currently on a 21-day fast to help her “pray better and connect to God”. Now, that is commitment! Prayer should be a two-way conversation where one talks to God, and God talks back to one. I can never truly say I have heard God talk, you know, like talk, TALK. My friend insists she has. Said God once told her to get me chocolate and she didn’t know why until I showed up miffed about stuff and only calmed down after she provided the candy. Oh by the way, she now tells me she had a dream about me lying on the ground and being flogged way before incident of weeks back occurred, but she did not know what it meant at the time. Woah. Lately, I have attempted planting subliminal messages in her head about the $40,000 Hublot watch I wanna get as a 40th birthday present. Wish me luck.


Tot ziens and God bless.

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